Daily Factoid: Is Bernie Sanders too old to be President?

 Although the Democratic Party machine still seems determined to ignore Sanders’ populist appeal, it’s time to consider the possibility that he’ll be the Democratic nominee. That begs the question,  “Is he too old to be President?”  The statistical analysis is interesting, but of course it is based on the law of averages. Here at  re: , our take on it is that if Bernie survives the grueling year-long primary process and becomes the Democratic nominee, that in itself suggests a vitality that belies his chronological age.

Although the Democratic Party machine still seems determined to ignore Sanders’ populist appeal, it’s time to consider the possibility that he’ll be the Democratic nominee. That begs the question, “Is he too old to be President?” The statistical analysis is interesting, but of course it is based on the law of averages. Here at re:, our take on it is that if Bernie survives the grueling year-long primary process and becomes the Democratic nominee, that in itself suggests a vitality that belies his chronological age.

Ronald Reagan—doddering through his second term—is the obvious cautionary tale here. At 75 Bernie’d be the oldest man ever sworn in as President; even older than Reagan was the second time ‘round. 

So... Is he too old? Or is 70 the new fifty, as people say? 

Those are the wrong questions. The right question is, What’s Bernie’s life expectancy? 

The average life expectancy of U.S. males is now nearly 80. So if Bernie even achieved that average, he would (just) live out his term as President. But as any good actuary will tell you, the average American man who has reached the age of 75 can expect to live about 11 more years. Bernie would have a mere 4% chance of dying in his first year in office. At inauguration, the smart money would bet that Bernie even had enough time for a second term.

 No President has ever been sworn into his first term in his 70s. In fact, the average age of first-term Presidents at their inauguration is around 55. But the question shouldn't revolve around age. It should revolve around life expectancy. Sanders' life expectancy at inauguration (at least a decade) would exceed that of many, if not most, past Presidents.

No President has ever been sworn into his first term in his 70s. In fact, the average age of first-term Presidents at their inauguration is around 55. But the question shouldn't revolve around age. It should revolve around life expectancy. Sanders' life expectancy at inauguration (at least a decade) would exceed that of many, if not most, past Presidents.

How does Bernie’s life expectancy compare to earlier Presidents?

Before 1900, an American male’s life expectancy was less than 50 years of age. With that in mind, virtually all early U.S. Presidents were sworn in at an age that exceeded average life expectancy at the time. But, it’s hard to meaningfully compare Presidents’ ages in the 18th & 19th centuries, when life expectancy was skewed downwards by high rates of infant mortality, dangerous and debilitating physical labor, and when now-treatable age-related diseases were a death sentence.

However, I compared age-at-inauguration with life expectancy for all the 20th c Presidents. On average, a new President took office at an age that represented about 90% of the figure for average life expectancy. Teddy Roosevelt took office at the youngest age—42 years and change. But relative to life expectancy, Clinton was the youngest president—he took office at 46, at a time when the average American man lived to be 72.

 Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower were all sworn into office at ages when—after correcting for increased life expectancy—they were about as old as Bernie Sanders is now.

Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower were all sworn into office at ages when—after correcting for increased life expectancy—they were about as old as Bernie Sanders is now.

Taft, Wilson, Harding; FDR (later terms); Truman, Eisenhower and of course Reagan were all Presidents who were, in actuarial terms, at least as old as Bernie is now. 

Admittedly, Harding died of natural causes in office. FDR, too, died of natural causes but it was in his fourth term (his time in office extended by WWII.) Although he was visibly frail in his final term as Commander-in-Chief, FDR is consistently ranked one of the best Presidents ever.  Truman, Eisenhower, and Woodrow Wilson are also rated highly by history; even old Ronald Reagan is fondly remembered.

Author's note: This later post looks at some of the implications of Bernie's age, vis-a-vis his supporters and his electability.